Alexander Glazunov (1865 - 1936)
Symphonies Nos. 2, Op. 16 and 7,Op. 77
Glazunov was born in Tsarist St Petersburg,the son of a well-known publisher and bookseller. Showing a precocious aptitudefor music, with a total recall and gift for reconstruction that was said tohave been legendary, witness his supposed rescue job on Borodin's PrinceIgor, he was early on discovered by Balakirev, founding father of thenationalist Five or Mighty Handful, before being taken up by Rimsky-Korsakovwith whom he studied composition and theory, and whose orchestral arsenal wasto be a life-long model. He also received encouragement from Liszt. Famousacross Europe as composer and conductor, albeit anindifferent one, he became Director of the St Petersburg Conservatory inDecember 1905, devoting his energy for the next quarter of a century to itsacademic, administrative and pastoral well-being, and numbering among his laterstudents Shostakovich. In 1928, embittered by the consequences, hardship anddeprivations of New Order communism, and unwilling any longer to play politicalchess or become involved in factional infighting, he left his country,ostensibly to attend the Schubert centenary commemorations in Vienna but effectively to escape. Relinquishing hisdirectorship of the Conservatory in 1930, he settled in Paris two years later, "respected, but not... muchloved... not really knowing for whom and for what he was writing", asShostakovich said. Published by the millionaire benefactor Belyayev, hiscopious output, dating mostly from the period between the deaths of Mussorgsky(1881) and Scriabin (1915), included eight completed symphonies (1881/82-1906),four concertos for violin and for piano, three ballets, a number of choralworks, seven string quartets, and a pair of piano sonatas.
Even more than Tchaikovsky, the best ofwhose poeticism he absorbed, Glazunov was a vital link between the musicaltraditions of oriental Russia and occidental Europe.
As a selfless, musically enriched, musically enriching teacher, an unbiasedhumanist, he exposed himself to countless stylistic by- roads in the work ofhis students. He delighted in going back to Josquin and Palestrina, and he sopowerfully "spent all his time thinking about music [that] when he spokeabout it, you remembered for life", according to Shostakovich. But what,in the end, did this do for his own expressive voice? Did he pay the price ofbeing an educator, substituting professional gloss for inspirational gold? Washe a flaming, up-to-date, progressive Russian nationalist who faded into aburnt-out, old-fashioned, retrogressive European Brahmsian? Was he a man simplyswept aside by more radical newcomers, Scriabin, Stravinsky, Prokofiev?Certainly he has had his defenders. "To him the transformation of themes isas easy as his art of orchestration; and is limited only in two ways. He willnot make a pedantic transformation, nor will he transform his own themes intoother people's" CTovey)." Strong personality and fineimagination" CCalvocoressi). "A master of the art" CShostakovich).
But he has also had his critics. Only two years after his death, the English SlavophileGerald Abraham could generalise of him as a Borodin/Rimsky clone who had"degenerated into a fluent, prolific, agreeable note-spinner whose musicis neither very national nor very personal nor very significant in any respectwhatsoever". Typical of much latter-day reaction is the suspicion,perpetrated by the same few yet repeated by many, that all he left was"music of a fluent and charming order... [lacking in] any touch ofgenius... [possessing] the deeply conservative temperament of a Spohr or aSaint-Saens ...his career ...leaves the same, rather sad impression made byother precocious artists who failed to develop after early youth ...a sentimental,perhaps rather feminine soul, addicted to sugary harmony and a persistent abuseof the appoggiatura" CSackville-West / Shawe-Taylor, The Record Guide, 1955edition). He once had a glittering reputation, but, in the years since, hismusic has more often been reviled than revived, largely denied that place inthe repertoire once so confidently predicted for it by Henry Wood.
Dating from between Tchaikovsky's Manfredand Fifth Symphony, Glazunov's Second Symphony in F sharpminor, Op. 16 (1886) was dedicated, like Saint-Saens's contemporaneous ThirdSymphony, to the memory of Liszt, whose spirit is recalled in theflamboyant brass climaxes and the Mephistophelean countenance of the nervyscherzo. Stylistically, it is otherwise broadly rooted in the old-worldrevolutionary nationalist ideals of (generally) Balakirev and (particularly)Borodin, notably his epochal, banner- waving B minor Symphony. This isespecially apparent from the archaic Russian mood of the first movement's slowintroduction, and the central Asian oriental turn of the Andante. Thefinale, despite its prophetic polyphony, is of a lesser order.
In the dawning of the new century"Alexander Glazunov reigned supreme in the science of the symphony. Each newproduction of his was received as a musical event of the first order, sogreatly were the perfections of his form, the purity of his counterpoint, andthe ease and assurance of his writing appreciated... I shared this admirationwhole-heartedly, fascinated by the astonishing mastery of this scholar"(Stravinsky, Chroniques de ma vie, Paris 1935). The Seventh Symphonyin F major, Op. 77 (1902, the so-called Pastoral) unfolds Glazunov'sfeeling for Germanic music and classical thought, its first movement alludingspecifically to the thematic world and rustic sound of Beethoven's own Pastoral,as well as the wider associations of classico-romantic F major pastoralism.
In common with the C minor examples of Taneyev (1898) and Scriabin (1901) itseeks also to establish a structural overview distinct from the sectionalisedapproach of earlier Russian composers, albeit one less exclusivelysonata-orientated. "More by instinct than by premeditated intention Iwanted to combine variation form (which latterly I have come to lovepassionately) with sonata and rondo forms and to build my music more oncontrapuntal than harmonic bases" (letter to Taneyev). By common consentthe first movement is the best, the finale the least successful in its mosaiceffort to organically summarise preceding events. The chorale-like Andante, withits lyrical D major cantilena episode and decorative variation, is demonstrablylinear. In the Mendelssohn / Reger tradition, Glazunov, like Taneyev, was askilled practitioner of the "learned" style, adroitly "capableof devising fugatos with lives of their own" (David Brown 1993). In thelonger of his two autobiographies, published posthumously in Moscow in 1973, Prokofiev recollected hearing Glazunovconduct the work at the Conservatory in 1907: it "seemed pallid to me:made but not composed. But Rimsky-Korsakov, who was sitting in the front row atthe rehearsal with the score in his hands, was delighted and kept praising it.
(1 must admit that later, when I played a four- hand arrangement of it with Myaskovsky,I liked it better -especially the first movement)".
@ 1996 Ates Orga